We’re more than a third of the way through 2019 and the editorial branch of this site has been far too dormant since 2018 received the Best Of recap treatment. Today will be dedicated to addressing that coverage gap with three look backs at the very best songs, music videos, and full streams that January, February, and March had to offer. Due to the sheer volume of highlighted material, these lists will (unfortunately) be static, presented on their own without any dedicated write-ups. Each of these releases is exceptional and may receive some more words further down the line but for now, simply revisit and enjoy: The Best of February 2019.
Heartbreaking Bravery recently went offline but all facets of the site are back to being fully operational. Apologies for any inconveniences. All posts that were slated to run during that brief hiatus will appear with this note.
As you may have noticed, every single entry into this year’s edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories (this one included) either ran or is running with the disclaimer up top. At the start of the year, Heartbreaking Bravery was effectively forced into a hiatus to work out technical complications that occurred due to what essentially amounted to a correspondence glitch. All sorts of things went haywire and reconnecting all the wires was a surprisingly difficult task. A number of things got lost in the shuffle.
For a brief time, I thought about ending the site permanently but reading back through the material that was still left on the table — as well as some of the material that was posted in the past — dissuaded me from calling it quits. These pieces needed to be published and it felt important, maybe even necessary, to continue this site.
While the timing may have rendered the 2016 installment of A Year’s Worth of Memories a little less timely than I would have liked, the pieces themselves largely transcended the time capsule-style trappings typically attributed to these types of works. Many touched on lessons that seemed timeless. All of them made me question what I’d eventually choose to write about it and how I’d present it whenever I did choose. The piece I wrote last year was outrageously long and I didn’t want to go through something that exhausting again.
Eventually, I decided the best route would be to combine some of the common traits laid out by the 2016 series: splitting the piece into four pieces, focusing on personal triumphs while making room for gnawing anxieties, visual interludes, and paying tribute to the people and events that are worth celebrating. All that and more can be read below.
SMALL FESTS & SHOWS
2016 was the year of small festivals; I’d always preferred them to the spectacle-laden retreats that seem to dominate the news cycles every year. Many of these small-scale events I’d been trying to see for years and 2016 just wound up being kind enough to allow me access to events like FRZN Fest, Wicker Park Fest, and Eaux Claires, among others. Unsurprisingly, each held its own share of memorable frustrations and scintillating highlights. In no particular moment, here are some of the standout moments.
Chicago was atypically warm for last year’s annual Music Frozen Dancing, which saw Muuy Biien, Meat Wave, The Spits, and the Black Lips playing outdoors to a packed crowd outside of the Empty Bottle. While all of the bands were good and the Black Lips, as they always do, managed to invoke the high school memories of discovering and participating in that genre of music, nothing could’ve topped Meat Wave unveiling “Glass Teeth” from what would eventually become their next record.
Ragged and sick, the band tore into the new material with the kind of excitement reserved for new material. It was a standout moment of a day that refused to end (my friend Josh and I wound up taking three different forms of public transit after the trains stopped running) after an off-the-books Heavy Times show wrapped in the early hours of the morning. It was a surreal moment and allowed for an extended view of Chicago at night. Exhausted, content, and desperate to get back to our sleeping quarters, it was a difficult night to forget.
Months later, I’d return for the unreasonably stacked Wicker Park Fest, excited to see a long list of friends and more than a few bands that had been on my bucket list. The weather had different plans. Not only did getting turned around on the way to the fest’s first day wind up forcing me to walk a few extra miles before being saved by a generous taxi driver who offered me a free ride after the first rain of the weekend started descending, more than half of the bands I’d intended to see got cancelled because of storms on both days.
Nearly as soon as I got through the gates, I was already rushing to take shelter with a bunch of other festivalgoers who had effectively sequestered themselves in Reckless Records, which would eventually lose power and offer up a faint glow with candles set up in various parts of the store People browsed records, reading materials, and gathered by the wind to watch the storm lift tents out of the ground and send them ricocheting down Paulina St. There was an odd magic to it all.
There were bright musical spots in the midst of all of that chaos, though, including an unbelievably explosive Jeff Rosenstock set that saw the songwriter leaping over the barricade gap, guitar still attached, to crowdsurf at the end of an abbreviated set. The whirlwind nature of Rosenstock’s performance, which came after the storm delays and restrictions were lifted, felt like an appropriate maelstrom of energy; a whirlwind performance driven by some unknowable force.
Five or six songs in length, it’d wind up being the highlight of the festival. Somewhere nearby, one of the trains on the blue line wound up getting blown off the rails by the intense winds and caused festival organizers to proceed with extra caution on the second day, which was hit with an even worse run of weather.
I spent much of that day with Sasha Geffen — the fist young music journalist I can remember truly admiring — who was with me when I was forming the initial idea for A Year’s Worth of Memories and was a vital part of its finalization. We took in great, sunny sets from Bad Bad Hats and Diet Cig before the storm reappeared and spent a lot of time in a powerless Emporium Arcade. During that run — which forced cancellations of both Pile and PUP — I was also fortunate enough to meet A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor David Anthony.
The last memorable moment of that festival caught me paralyzed in between two stages, with Ought ripping into “More Than Any Other Day” on one side and Alvvay‘s launching into “Archie, Marry Me” on the other. I took in both, unable to choose between two of the best songs of the past ten years before rushing over to Ought, who had their industrial sensibilities enhanced by their backdrop, trains running along the blue line in the background while being cloaked in a calm, post-storm glow. It was a perfect way to cap a very chaotic festival.
Three more small festivals had their fair share of spectacular moments as well: Bon Iver debuting an entire record at Eaux Claires, sending chills down my spine for the entirety of “715 – CR∑∑KS” while crickets audibly chirped on the forest perimeter, their sound elevated by the reverential silence of a crowd of thousands. Tickle Torture playing shortly after that set and delivering a slew of the festival’s best moments, including a finale that saw bandleader Elliot Kozel (formerly of Sleeping in the Aviary) getting completely naked while screaming “MY LOVE!” at the top of his lungs. That day starting at the gates, listening to the sounds of an expanded Tenement lineup blowing away a festival crowd and spending that day in the presence of some of my favorite people, including A Year’s Worth of Memories contributors Nina Corcoran (who I wrote about for my piece last year) and Sam Clark (who has played in more than one band with me).
Turkey Fest’s final day had a stellar lineup boasting four great acts: Wood Chickens, Trampoline Team, The Hussy, and Nobunny, with the latter two delivering incredible sets full of ridiculous high-energy antics. FRZN Fest had more than a few moments that wound up being burned into my memory. None more frustrating than an infuriatingly chatty crowd refusing to give Julien Baker anything beyond a modicum of courtesy. None more exciting than a characteristically perfect Charly Bliss set that had me continuously grinning while singing along to songs that comprised the best EP of this current decade and will litter one of 2017’s best records.
As much as I love both Julien Baker and Charly Bliss, though, there was something about Torres‘ set that felt almost holy. Playing after a good Eternal Summers set and the best Palehound set I’ve seen to date, Torres dove headfirst into a set that alternately gave me chills, lifted my spirits, calmed me, and — almost inexplicably — at one point had me on the verge of tears. To top it all off, Torres’ goosebump-inducing one-song encore wound up being tantamount to a religious experience that included a lovely moment between bandleader Mackenzie Scott and my friend Justin. I was fortunate enough to capture that moment in full and revisit it frequently.
For individual shows, there were a number of great outings that were peppered with heartening moments lingering around the peripheries of the main event. Walking into the High Noon Saloon to be greeted with an onslaught of hugs from my friends in Yowler, Eskimeaux, and Frankie Cosmos, only to be whisked away for a coffee reprieve in a nearby shop by Gabby, Greta, and A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor Athylia Paremski, before circling back to a powerhouse show. Charly Bliss and PUP combining for what was, bar none, the most intense show I’ve ever experienced (at one point I was nearly choked out by a girl clutching the neckline of my shirt to keep herself upright in the swirling sea of chaos behind me).
As meaningful as both of those shows were, though, it would have been impossible for anyone to top an event that occurred early on in December: the official reunion of Good Grief, a band that meant an extraordinary amount to me that was nearly gone forever, taking place in Guu’s, the tavern that’s acted as a refuge for me during my various stints in my home town. People from the shows that dominated my fondest Stevens Point memories from that run all flooded in from various parts of the upper Midwest to see this take place and everyone lost their voices screaming along. Making things even sweeter: an opening set from Heavy Looks, led in part by my friend Rosalind Greiert, watching her hit a stride as both a writer and performer, and feeling an irrepressible rush of a million good feelings as I watched her come into her own in real time.
To see something like that happening (both the Heavy Looks set and the Good Grief set), surrounded by friends so close they’re considered family, engaging in something meaningful is an exhilarating feeling and a lot of people who were present are likely still feeling some of those feelings reverberations. Good Grief weren’t exactly a household name before their dissolution but they were — and remain — one of the best bands I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. Get caught up by watching the videos from that reunion set right here:
In 2016, I had the good fortune of playing the most shows in any given year that I probably ever have in my life. In addition to finishing writing a (forthcoming) solo record, I was able to play in three different bands with people I respect, admire, and care for deeply.
The band I played with the least was the band that I’d played with the most in 2015, A Blue Harbor. Geographic complications have essentially forced us into a hiatus by the middle of the year but we were still able to play a few shows in support of the full-length we’d recorded in Minneapolis in 2015, including a local show for a pop-up art gallery for an arts collective that made me feel a surge of hope for our small town. As unlikely as it seems at this point, something tells me the things this band has to offer have been far from exhausted (and our guitarist/vocalist, Matty, has been releasing a continuous string of excellent material on her own).
I accepted an invitation to join a new band called Doorstopper and have taken up residency behind the kit. Jarad Olson, the bassist for both Good Grief and Heavy Looks as well as an incredible songwriter in his own right, had teamed up with our friend Melissa Haack to allow her poetry a musical platform in an odd experiment that’s been paying the type of dividends that I’m legitimately not sure any of us had expected. It’s become a band whose mantra has remained — and with good reason — “let’s get weird.” It’s a band that has been given the tag “premenstrual post-punk” and it’s the type of band that takes a suggestion for a “doom-wop” song seriously. And it’s a band that hasn’t stopped getting better and more interesting with each successive practice.
While Doorstopper has been occupying itself in the shadows, building something interesting, I also found myself being re-integrated into a resurgent Holly & the Nice Lions, who played all over the state of Wisconsin in 2016, with a host of fascinating bands. Some of those bands (Bad Wig, Midnight Reruns) were made up of the people we’ve been close friends with for years. Some of those bands (Young Jesus, POPE, Mo Troper) constitute the best emerging bands America has to offer.
One of those bands (Bully) has earned international acclaim. One of those bands (The Muffs) continues to be rightfully revered as not only icons but living legends. Through all of those shows, the weird parties surrounding them, and everything else that the minutiae of being in band carries, we’ve grown closer as a unit and I’m proud to consider both of the other members as family. Whether we were being towed to a house show after blowing a tire or playing hard enough to generate our own blood, we’ve found ways to continuously elevate each other, keep each other in check, and look out for each other. Show after show, song after song, the band kept getting better and we — impossibly — kept enjoying each other’s company more. It’s hard to imagine a better situation.
For all of the memorable things I was able to do in both film and music throughout 2016, by the year’s end none of it felt as meaningful as it would have if I didn’t get to share it with my partner, Simone. Throughout the last quarter of the year, we went from being good friends to being inseparable, willfully colliding at nearly every turn. I learned to rediscover the depths of my love for discovering new music by viewing it through her eyes. I rediscovered the importance of engaging in active good. I made up my mind to constantly strive to better myself in productive ways.
A series of shared trips to the various corners of the state of Wisconsin led to some genuinely unforgettable moments, whether it was carving out new, unbeaten paths in gorgeous parks on beautiful days or getting swept up in the (typically far too humid) intensity of shows in basements, dive bars, or anywhere else we might find people playing instruments (or picking up instruments of our own to play each other Bishop Allensongs). I’ll steal her glasses, she’ll steal my camera. We’ll laugh, we’ll listen, we’ll watch, and we’ll keep moving forward.
The survival of Heartbreaking Bravery can, in many ways, be directly attributed to her involvement in my life. All of the frustrating, terrifying events that have happened over the course of the year’s last stretch seemed easier to weather with her at my side and she’s constantly given me at least one major reason to celebrate the future. I’m thankful, grateful, and unbelievably lucky.
A STEP FORWARD
By the end of 2016, Heartbreaking Bravery had gained additional purpose. In the face of one of the most anti-arts (and anti-press) administrations in America’s history, the need to fight back by any means necessary increased. Even before the election, the fact that the current president’s campaign had carried him so far was troublesome. With a milestone rapidly approaching for the site, that happening at the forefront of the nation’s political landscape (and, more directly, America’s landscape), and an unending desire to be productive and actively contribute to good causes, I chose to resolve all of my feelings into one massive project: A Step Forward.
At first, I only expected a handful of people to be interested in contributing to the project. More than half of the artists I reached out to responded immediately and gifted the compilation, designed to serve as Heartbreaking Bravery’s 1000th post, incredible material. In a matter of weeks, I had more than 50 songs kicking around in my inbox. A few months later, my finger was lingering above the publish button, set to release 100 songs from 100 artists that had, in some way or another, been involved with this site’s history. By that point, I’d enlisted the help of Jes Skolnik to locate worthy causes and had struck up a correspondence with the Chicag0-based Rape Victim Advocates. All of the money made from the pay-your-own pricetag of A Step Forward would be going towards that organization.
Looking through all of the songs, whether they were demos, early mixes, new songs, remixes, or old favorites, and all of the artists who had chosen to give me a part of their lives because they believed in the things I was doing and the causes I was supporting was an overwhelming feeling. A lot of people that have had near-death experiences have described the sensation of seeing their life flash before their eyes and, in that moment with my finger hovering over the button to release this compilation, it was hard not to take stock of everything that had happened in my life over the course of this site’s existence. It was a jarring feeling but one that filled me with hope and with love for the people who have supported this place, stuck by my side, and lent their voice to any of the various projects to have run on Heartbreaking Bravery.
I was on the verge of tears when I woke up to the flood of responses the compilation had elicited and how much it had generated for people who put the funds to good use. I’d stayed up for nearly 50 straight hours getting the preparations for the project in place. Cody Dyb, one of my closest friends, was kind enough to let me use his internet to upload the materials (the internet at my house is obscenely slow) and I’d collapsed into a deep sleep shortly after returning home. Phil McAndrew, one of my favorite artists working today (and a regular contributor to this series), contributed an original piece to the project that has become one of my most-treasured renderings.
In the weeks leading up to A Step Forward‘s released, I’d done an ink sketch of what would become Heartbreaking Bravery’s logo. Petite League’s Lorenzo Cook — another Syracuse-based artist whose band contributed an incredible song to the compilation — meticulously tightened and superimposed the logo onto the image for the album art and the banner that can be seen at the top of this segment. I’m unbelievably grateful for both of their contributions and am lucky to count them both as friends. I also have to give special mention, once more, to Fred Thomas.
For more than a few years, I’ve considered Thomas to be one of the best lyricists in music (2017’s Changer finds him attaining stratospheric highs). When I reached out to him about the project and he suggested a song tackling the weird inter-scene dynamics that occur around someone being outed as a sexual predator, I wasn’t just flattered, I was flattened. That the ensuing work would be one of his strangest — partially inspired by S U R V I V E’s outstanding Stranger Things score work and a nice (if unintentional) nod to that particular act’s name — felt appropriate. “What Happens When the Costumes Come Off” is a song that perfectly embodied the tumultuous events that led to the formation of A Step Forward in my mind and has resonated with me ever since my first, oddly disorienting listen. There’s fear present in that song, there’s an incessant questioning, there’s a feeling of damage, but — most importantly — there is a feeling of resilience.
It’s that final feeling, resilience, that I’ve chosen to carry into 2017. With what America’s currently facing, resilience will be necessary. I’ve already been inspired by my friends’ resilience and generosity and I’ve vowed to carry on that spirit as best as possible. I’ve vowed to both make more room for and to elevate the voices of the groups who have been unfairly othered due to location, socioeconomic standing, or — infuriatingly — appearance, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Historically, the people that have followed this site have shared a similar mindset and I’m constantly humbled by their company. We’re all in this fight together and it’s important to listen to the fears, concerns, and desires of the people that have been denied a platform for the worst reasons all too frequently.
The shows and festivals made 2016, in turns, fascinating, frustrating, and genuinely exciting. The people I was fortunate enough to be playing some of those shows provided 2016 a level of comfort. My partner not only served as a constant source of inspiration but continuously reminded me of the good in the world and all of the reasons that hope should never be abandoned. A Step Forward taught me that I’ll never be alone in my belief that empathy, camaraderie, and compassion will always find a way to thrive and that now, more than ever, it’s important to carry on the work, the ideology, and the spirit of Heartbreaking Bravery. I will do my best to personally embody whatever legacy it may have at every single turn and I will always be honored by the company it’s allowed me to share. 2017 may seem bleak from the outset but I have every reason to find heart in the fight to ensure it’s better than what we expect.
When I started Heartbreaking Bravery nearly three years ago, I had no intention of pursuing it as a legitimate venture. Now, 1,000 posts, 50,000+ links, and countless words later, the site’s come to be the type of platform I’ve always loved seeing in the world. I could attempt to wax poetic on the nature of personal discovery and growth that running this place has afforded me but Heartbreaking Bravery was never about a single person, it’s always functioned best as a communal entity.
The ideas that formed the basic structure of Heartbreaking Bravery all came from artists producing exceptional work with little recognition. Repeatedly watching that transaction occur proved too disheartening. Whether it was the earliest years of Tenement, the later years of Good Grief, or virtually the entire run of Sleeping in the Aviary, there were always ceaselessly talented artists surrounding me that only ever seemed to receive the slightest of nods.
Heartbreaking Bravery originally aimed — and continues to aim — to provide a more level playing field to emerging artists, without reducing their worth to financial opportunity. Heartbreaking Bravery continues to value the community and intimacy that informs the DIY music world. Heartbreaking Bravery will continue to use the platform it’s been granted to elevate the idea of greater equality.
It’s in that spirit that I’m honored to present A Step Forward, a two-volume compilation spanning 100 tracks that exclusively features artists who are connected to this site’s history. Whether that was through a long history of collaboration or something as small as a twitter follow, the impact was not lost or left unappreciated. There’s a heavy emphasis on artists residing in the cities and states Heartbreaking Bravery has called home (Stevens Point, WI and Brooklyn, NY) and a small selection of songs that were premiered on this site.
100% of the proceeds of A Step Forward will be going to Rape Victim Advocates, a non-profit Chicago-based organization that’s doing vital (and, sadly, necessary) work for survivors of sexual assault. Read more about the organization here. It’s my sincerest hope that every publication that has the privilege of visibility manages to find ways to use any of their influence for productive good and to affect positive change. Please consider donating what you can to a meaningful cause.
Finally, I wanted to express gratitude to all of the artists (and any of their teams) involved — including the inimitable Phil McAndrew, who turned in the extraordinary album art — and all of the people that have allowed, even willed, this site to the point it’s at today. It likely would have disappeared without that support and I owe those people a debt of gratitude that could never be truly repaid. A special thanks to Fred Thomas, whose “What Changes When The Costumes Come Off” was written with the specifics of A Step Forward in mind.
Enjoy the compilation, support independent art, and join me, this site, these artists, and this cause in taking A Step Forward.
A Step Forward: Vol. 1*
1. Vacation – Caked Joy Rag (Demo)
2. Mike Krol – Neighborhood Watch (Demo)
3. Dead Stars – So Strange (Demo)
4. Mo Troper – After the Movies (Demo)
5. Fern Mayo – The Sweets (Demo)
6. Hater – Like Hours (Demo)
7. Sharkmuffin – Only Mondays (Demo)
8. Fits – Ice Cream On A Nice Day (Demo)
9. Missy – Patience (Demo)
10. Kodakrome – Skeletons (Demo)
11. Slight – Run (Demo)
12. Long Neck – Goldfinch (Demo)
13. Phyllis Ophelia – Probably Not (Demo)
14. Lever – Cure (Demo)
15. Puppy Problems – Destroyer (Demo)
16. Battle Ave. – Black Jeans (Demo)
17. Yours Are The Only Ears – Alone Bear (Demo)
18. Attendant – Some Other Language (Demo)
19. MKSEARCH – Little Song (Demo)
20. Sulky Boy – Birches (Demo)
21. Heavy Looks – Those Guys (Demo)
22. darn it. – (again) pt. II
23. Phooey! – On an On
24. Arm Candy – Big Clunker
25. DTCV – Le Vampire
26. Clearance – The Queen of Eyes
27. Leggy – I’m Gonna Destroy That Boy
28. Big Air – Hit Me in the Mouth
29. Terry Malts – Look (At the Mess That We’re In)
30. Ubetcha – Musician
31. Two Inch Astonaut – Suckers Share
32. Whelpwisher – Bucket for the Sky
33. Petite League – Magic Johnson
34. The Meltaways (ft. Kate M) – Wrong Words
35. Calumet – Indian Summer
36. Mulligrub – Little Fist
37. Ben Seretan – Stay In Touch
38. Mumblr – Friendship Stew
39. Human People – Useless Things
40. Bethlehem Steel – Florida Two
41. Painted Zeros – Sweet Briar Rose
42. Spit – Paul Westerberg
43. Crusher – Running
44. Pupppy – Stand By Me
45. Aberdeen – Once You Fall In Love
46. Tica Douglas – Enough
47. Peaer – Multiverse
48. The Weasel, Marten Fisher – What Is Love
49. Young Jesus – Mirroring
50. Space Mountain – Earthrise
A Step Forward: Vol. II*
1. Bellows – Bank Checks
2. Cave Curse – Arcadia
3. Fred Thomas – What Changes When the Costumes Come Off
4. Apollo Vermouth – He Sees You, He Loves You
5. Green Dreams – Psychic Woes (Alternate Mix)
6. Lost Boy ? – Have You Seen My Brain (Space Cat Sessions)
7. Mikaela Davis – Pure Divine Love (Early Mix)
8. Nano Kino – Recovery (Early Mix)
9. Trophy Dad – Addison (Early Mix)
10. Alanna McArdle – Less Than (Early Mix)
11. VVHILE – Don’t Belong (Live)
12. Liam Betson – Mispronounced (Live)
13. BAG-DAD – Bruv (Live)
14. Slothrust – Keg Party (Live)
15. The Nudes – Nowhere to Be
16. Sat. Nite Duets – Cemetery Steve
17. Slanted – Fake Party
18. Patio – Gold
19. Greys – No Star
20. No Hoax – Date With Death
21. Dirty Dishes – Red Roulette
22. Yeesh – On Some Dirt
23. Pile – Cut From First Other Tape
24. Even Hand – Nightsmoke the Fuss
25. PURPLE 7 – Wise Up
26. Bad Wig – Machinehead
27. Mary Lynn – Space
28. Pleistocene – CMJ Compilation 1996
29. Color TV – Anybody’s Girl
30. Jacky Boy – Bad
31. Trust Fund – Would That Be An Adventure?
32. Good Grief – City People
33. Adir L.C. – Hangover
34. Milk Crimes – H8RZ
35. À La Mode – Total Doom
36. Inside Voices – Nomad: Begin
37. Doe – Corin
38. Kindling – Became
39. Bueno – Blown Out
40. Horse Teeth – Dark & Gloomy
41. Ron Gallo – Put the Kids to Bed
42. Sun’s Out Bummed Out – Cut All My Hair
43. Eric Slick – The Dirge
44. Fruit & Flowers – Turqoise
45. Shilpa Ray – Hymn
46. Jack – Sister System
47. Strange Ranger – Whatever You Say
48. Johanna Warren – A Bird in the Crocodile’s Mouth
49. Oceanator – Nowhere Nothing
50. Fresh Snow – Eat Me In St. Louis (Bryan W. Bray – Eaten by the Cetacean Mix)
Tracks 1-21: Demos
Tracks 22-50: New Songs
Tracks 1-4: New Songs (cont’d) Tracks 5-14: Alternate Mixes and Live Songs Tracks 15-49: Old Favorites Track 50: Remix
The 12 months that comprised last year were among the most rewarding, the most challenging, and the most outright surreal I’ve experienced in my 26 years of existence. Narrowing it down to one defining moment proved to be a laughable impossibility for me so I’ve taken a cue from several of this edition’s contributors and decided to focus on a series of moments rather than one overarching event.
Before getting to those, though, it’s worth mentioning several of the smallest moments that have managed to stick in my memory. That list goes as follows: drinking tea on the roof of DBTS with Greg Rutkin as we watched the sun rise on my first morning in Brooklyn, looking up a few months later only to suddenly realize that Rutkin, Krill‘s Aaron Ratoff, and myself were all having a half-absent living room jam session, eating bagels on the sidewalk at the crack of dawn with Saintseneca after spending the previous night getting ridiculous at Rocka Rolla, feeling a surge of pride watching Patio play their first show, and getting recognized by Rob Sheffield and Simon Vozick-Levinson (two writers who I’ve admired for years).
Additionally: being pulled further and further into the world of Ronnie Stone, spending an afternoon kicking around with Bad Wig (a WI band made up of people I’ve considered family for years), watching Tenement continue their steady ascension on their own terms, all of the shows I saw that don’t get mentioned in the space below, walking through one of Martin Scorsese’s sets for VINYL with Glueboy‘s Coby Chafets (who was an absolute joy to have as both an NYC guide and as a roommate), being absolutely destroyed by an overwhelming sense of familliarity at a morning screening of The End of the Tourwhich I was fortune enough to take in with Chandler Levack (one of my favorite directors), and becoming a member of Film Independent.
Further still: getting hugged by Eskimeaux‘s Gabrielle Smith before I could even get out a formal introduction, having Girlpool‘s Harmony Tividad tell me she knew how to spell my last name right after we first met, spending a perfect evening getting to know Callan Dwan (who I’ve been messaging every Sunday since we first met) and Casey Weissbuch following one of their shows playing alongside Mitski, receiving a drunken group phone call from my closest hometown friends on the Fourth of July, and finding the fortune to be a recipient of the continuous support of both Exploding In Sound‘s Dan Goldin and Father/Daughter‘s Jessi Frick.
As well as: feeling completely at ease working doors for both Baby’s All Right and Elvis Guesthouse (a task made even more enjoyable by the welcoming presence of Alex Lilienfeld), spending my first week in Brooklyn waking up to the sounds of Felix Walworth meticulously tracking the forthcoming Told Slant record, and traveling to the twin cities with one of the bands I play bass in — A Blue Harbor — to track Troubled Hearts (and holding the cassette for the first time, suddenly realizing I’d just completed something that had been on my bucket list for over a decade).
I could go on and on (and on) about the overwhelming bevvy of small moments that I continue to look back on with great fondness or wax ecstatic about the steps taken in 2015 to ensure a more inclusive climate in the music industry (while still recognizing there’s a long way to go) but, after a while, that would become tedious for just about anyone (myself included). Rest assured, there are several more paragraph’s worth of those moments and the scope of the portrait they illustrate would be overwhelming. As is likely evidenced above, it was tremendously difficult for me to pare down what moment stood out most in my chaotic run through 2015 and left me with no less than a dozen absurdly strong candidates.
While a dozen may seem overly self-indulgent, it’s my belief that these 12 moments form the most complete representation of my year. Most of them are connected to my time spent living in Brooklyn (a city that I came to love and hope to return to as a resident), which helped me not only shape my identity but — possibly for the first time — feel a strong sense of validity in my work. 2015 may have been made up of 12 months but the 5+ I spent living in Brooklyn produced 12 of my favorite moments. All of them are covered below.
Montana & the Marvelles Play In Secret The first time I remember realizing that I was exactly where I wanted to be was, unsurprisingly, at DBTS. I’d been sleeping on couches for a few days there by that point and getting the swing of the city while navigating my way through a handful of Northside showcases. During that first run, the place was buzzing with both anxiety and excitement over a secret wedding celebration that they were going to be throwing for a close friend. Champagne had been bought in bulk, balloons had been floated to the ceiling, a disco ball had been set in motion, a taco line had been prepared, and a root beer float setup was at the ready by the time the event was set into motion.
Everyone had been told to dress to the tens and looked the part. At that point, I still felt like an interloper was getting increasingly comfortable with my new surroundings. Nearly everyone I’d been introduced to had been extremely welcoming and the first group of people that had made a kind gesture were Montana & the Marvelles, who were wrapping up a rehearsal when I first stepped foot inside of DBTS. The wedding celebration was their first public appearance and they tore into it with a ferocious sense of determination, delivering a handful of great covers in the process.
Watching them that night and looking around at everyone who came out to celebrate reminded me of why I made the decision to move; no other place is as facilitating of those kinds of events (or moments). By the time the band hit their finale — an explosive, joyous cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” — I was overcome with gratitude and decided, for once, to stop filming and dance. It was also the first of many nights I had that led to everyone taking in the summer night’s breezes on the DBTS rooftop, where I put the finishing touches on my introduction packet for the band. As a whole, it remains one of the times where I felt like I’d actually found a place where I belonged.
Charly Bliss Makes A Formal Introduction at Northside One of the bands I was most excited to meet at the outset of my move was Charly Bliss, who had topped my EP’s list in 2014. No person had been trying to persuade me to make the move more than their guitarist/vocalist Eva Hendricks, who had been unbelievably supportive of what I’d been doing prior to my discovery of Charly Bliss (that this note had no bearing on the band becoming one of my absolute favorites made the prospect of meeting even sweeter).
I’d been walking around Brooklyn with a few people from DBTS before the Father/Daughter Northside showcase was scheduled to start and had fielded several excited messages from Hendricks before we ran into each other on a street outside of Shea Stadium. Everyone was happy to see everyone else and Hendricks nearly pulled me to the ground with a hug that neither of us broke until after a full minute had passed. After a long round of catching up, the showcase kicked off in earnest and featured a handful of great performances from bands worth their salt.
Charly Bliss closed the night out and opened their set with the still-unreleased “Percolator“, with Jessi Frick firing off streamers at the climactic point of the introduction, providing a moment that felt transcendental. Surrounded by people I loved, seeing a band I’d granted an endless amount of praise (who were then in the process of becoming one of my favorite live acts at a terrifying pace), and being in the presence of both for the first time was an invigorating jolt that moved me more than just about anything else I experienced in 2015.
Jason Isbell Pulls the Sun Down at Prospect Park Jason Isbell‘s an artist that I don’t frequently write about on this space — his stature guarantees him press from so many other outlets already — but genuinely love (and have since my first listen of Drive-By Truckers’ classic Decoration Day). For several summers myself and my friend (and frequent bandmate) Jake Wetuski would take out our guitars and cover Isbell songs with each other, trading leads or playing together. When I found out that Isbell would be playing Prospect Park for the free Celebrate Brooklyn series, I jumped at the chance.
A solo train ride over had me thinking about all of the ways my life had changed that summer, about how I spent most of the flight from O’Hare to LaGuardia listening to Southeastern, about how I was already pining for the company of certain people but finally becoming content with my place in the world. The sounds of Dawn Landes‘ set guided me through Prospect Park to the stage, where I immediately found a place with a good view of the stage that didn’t obstruct or impede anyone else’s view.
Less than forty minutes later, Isbell was setting up on stage and announcing that his wife and bandmate, Amanda Shires, wouldn’t be joining them because she was expecting the arrival of their newborn in the following week. Gleaming with pride and amping up the “aw, shucks” Southern charm, Isbell took advantage of an absolutely perfect spring night and delivered a deeply heartfelt set of material that I’d been waiting years to see in a live setting. It only took about half of a set before I had to fight back tears, as an adoring crowd exploded with applause in the middle of a mesmerizing performance of “Cover Me Up” in response to a key line about sobering up, showering the songwriter with a tremendous display of affection, support, and actual love.
After the sun set and the crowd had exploded in frantic applause after Isbell’s landmark set, he returned to the stage. By that point, the sun had set and no one was making a push for the exit. The band returned, one at a time, slowly locking into “Danko/Manuel“, a song he penned for the Drive-By Truckers as a tribute to the influential members of The Band.
As the song opened with “let the night air cool you off”, it felt as if everything outside of that moment had ceased mattering; this was Isbell’s triumphant 2015 run hitting an apex and seeing a talent like that find the audience and respect he’d so richly deserved for close to 15 years was beyond heartening. Few things gave me as much hope for the future as that specific moment, one that offered up definitive proof that hard work, dedication, and sheer artistry can be rewarded in the way they deserve.
With Isbell’s vocals floating off into the distance, beyond the sea of people seated on blankets in the grass behind the main area, I found something resembling faith and knew that in both New York and Wisconsin, I’d surrounded myself with the right people, people I believed in, and that no matter the slew of hardships I may have to face, that they’d ultimately guide me to the right place. I stayed in that park, staring at that stage, for as long as I was allowed, before removing myself from the spot where I knew I’d wind up okay.
“Doomsday” Lives Up To Its Name at Pier 84
Another free, outdoor show I had the good fortune of attending saw Weyes Blood, Speedy Ortiz, and Waxahatchee joining forces for a mid-day show on a pier in Manhattan overlooking the Hudson River. After a quick stroll through Times Square, I headed for the pier and met up with a handful of my closest friends who were listening to strains of Weyes Blood as they enjoyed a makeshift picnic. Before long, Weyes Blood’s set had ended, more friends had made their presence known, and everyone was milling around the front of the stage, taking in both the sunlight and the river’s breeze.
Before Speedy Ortiz’s set started, the weather very quickly became downcast and quietly threatening. Underneath that stormy backdrop, Speedy Ortiz kicked off one of their most impassioned sets to date. I’ve had a range of experiences with Speedy Ortiz over the past few years but none of them quite matched the way that their performance of “Doomsday” affected me on that pier. “Doomsday” has always hit me hard (it’s an easy song-of-the-decade candidate for me) but when Sadie Dupuis and Darl Ferm started into it that day and rain started coming down (and then picking up as the song progressed), it felt otherworldly.
Something in that performance seemed to ignite something in Speedy Ortiz, who seemed to be channeling a series of pent-up frustrations into a staggering set that culminated with a weather-damaged instrumental freakout as the sky was split open by cracks of lightning that appeared over the Hudson River. By then the crowd had dwindled to a select few brave souls who managed to withstand the torrential downpour.
Waxahatchee’s set was, unfortunately, cancelled due to the weather but I lucked into a fitting epilogue via a bowling-quest-turned-diner-adventure with A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor Gabriela June Tully Claymore, her fellow Stereogum writer James Rettig, and a few friends. Desperately trying to get dry using a bathroom hand-dryer, I found myself unable to suppress a shit-eating grin, knowing full well I was wrapping up a day worth talking about for years to come.
Johanna Warren Serenades the Skyline I saw Johanna Warren three times in 2015, each one differing radically from the other. The first was an hour from my hometown, where I drove to profile her for Consequence of Second. The second time was a basement show that presented a whole host of memorable moments from my introduction to harpist Mikaela Rose Davis (and the spine-tingling Elliott Smith cover she used to soundcheck) to the fabric of a mothering station getting licked by the flame of a few too many candles and interrupting a performance art piece that saw a woman strip naked, consume her own blood from an IV bag, and spit it back out onto a row of carefully arranged flowers in mason jars.
As wild as that basement show was, Warren’s last-minute performance on a rootop overlooking the skylines of both Brooklyn and Manhattan was the one that stood out most. After the show’s original location notified Warren that they’d discovered they had a bed bug infestation the day before her set was scheduled, a group of people worked extremely hard to locate a new venue. Fortunately, Damon Stang had open space on the top of his apartment complex.
Only a dozen or so people showed up, all apparently friends of Warren’s, contributing even greater intimacy to an already intimate evening. An assortment of wine, liquor, and bakery items were all up for grabs and everyone quietly talked among themselves as night swiftly descended, providing Warren with a suitably quiet backdrop. Lit by only the lights of the city and operating without a microphone, Warren delivered a haunting set to a captivated audience that reveled in the majestic sweep of the backdrop, the performance, the night itself, and the experience as a whole. Unexpected and surprisingly moving, it saw Warren fully realizing the effect of music as a healing agent and close a few wounds in the process.
PWR BTTM Hands Out Ugly Cherries One of the first bands I ran into after moving to Brooklyn was PWR BTTM, who would very quickly become close friends. They’re people that I’m continuously grateful to have in my life and it’s been an honor to get to know the band’s members. I was very quickly drawn to them for not just their music but their outspoken stance on their values (and their willingness to make them so abundantly clear in any applicable scenario). For all of those reasons and many more, I was tremendously excited to be at their release show for Ugly Cherries, one of my favorite records of 2015.
Charly Bliss‘ Eva Hendricks had baked a gigantic batch of cupcakes adorned with cherries for the occasion, guitarist/vocalist (and occasional drummer) Benjamin Hopkins had hidden the evening’s outfit away at a thrift store for weeks before claiming it prior to the show, and the opening lineup of Kississippi, Fern Mayo, and Charly Bliss was suitably stacked. The parents of a few of the bands were in attendance and Silent Barn was unbelievably packed.
Three strong sets into the evening and a visibly nervous Hopkins was setting up on stage as drummer (and occasional guitarist/vocalist) Liv Bruce adjusted the kit. I’d seen PWR BTTM a handful of times leading up to that show but none of those sets were adequate preparation for the outpouring of energy from both the band and the audience of their set that night, which felt as much like a celebration as it did a victory lap. Amid screams of “I love you” and “you’re amazing”, PWR BTTM’s songs took on the magnitude of anthems and were, appropriately, granted the requisite scream-a-longs by a dedicated and devoted audience.
For all the moments of blistering energy, disarming sincerity, and delightfully irreverent snark, one of the moments that’s stayed with me was the unveiling of a new song that saw Hopkins pick up a bass and deliver a tender ballad about feeling completely dismantled by different forms of slight abuse, causing Charly Bliss’ Hendricks to break down in tears on the side of the stage, overwhelmed by feelings of protection, love, and empathy. That it came towards the end of a riotous set only heightened its impact, leaving a sold-out room unified in small devastation.
Before long, though, spirits were at the ceiling again and PWR BTTM’s dresses were more than halfway off, and hundreds of people were nearing a state of delirium. Encore chants were inevitable and when the call was swift and immediate, those pleas were rewarded with a frantic rendition of “Carbs” before Hopkins and Bruce exited the stage, visibly exhausted, and subjected themselves to a seemingly endless swarm of overjoyed embraces from a community that rallied behind them and got to take part in a moment that carried significant meaning for far more people than either Hopkins, Bruce, or Fern Mayo’s Nicholas Cummins (who joined the band for several songs) could have ever anticipated.
Mike Krol Does the Upper Midwest Proud at Baby’s All Right Before the first Heartbreaking Bravery showcase, the last two shows I’d booked had both featured two bands who had a tremendous impact on my life and musical development: Good Grief and Sleeping in the Aviary. Both bands, sadly, have long ceased operations, though their various members still play together in a handful of projects.
In 2015, Sleeping in the Aviary managed to have somewhat of a resurgence, with both the release of an astonishing outtakes collection ad 80% of the band’s final lineup once again combining forces as Mike Krol‘s backing band. Krol had relocated from the upper Midwest to California on his way to delivering 2015’s blistering Turkey, one of the year’s most exhilarating records (and his extremely unexpected but entirely welcome debut for Merge).
Krol’s stop at Baby’s All Right came shortly after I’d started picking up shifts at the door, pushing my anticipation for the show to even greater heights (it was a show that’d been circled on my calendar in the immediate moments following its announcement). Being connected to yet another venue that would be playing host to a few familiar faces, a few of which I’d grown up playing shows with, felt like an oddly appropriate next step.
The night’s opening bands delivered solid sets but what Mike Krol & co. delivered on that stage that night was unforgettable. Fully attired in the record’s signature fringe’d-up police attire, the band meticulously covered the perimeter of the stage with razor wire and carefully placed a series of lights in the open spaces among the coils. A few minutes later and the band was off, immediately at full-throttle. Out of sheer curiosity, I glanced over my shoulder at the size of the audience and was met with the vision of a sold-out audience all incredibly excited to throw themselves into celebrating an artist that, up until 2015, was only known in select circles for two sharp bandcamp releases.
Krol and his band covered close to his entire discography on that stage, whipping the sizable audience into an absolute frenzy. A surging sea of implacable bodies spiraling aimlessly into each other contributed to the anything-goes attitude that informed the band’s set (a welcome reminder of Sleeping in the Aviary’s heyday). Towards the end, the person running house lights could no longer resist sitting still and slyly tried to supplement the band’s light setup, prompting a startled “what the fuck was that?!” from Krol himself, followed shortly by a “do that again!“, which was delivered with a reckless excitability.
From that moment onward, the band’s seemingly full-blast attack was buoyed even further by a series of frantic lighting triggers from the person manning the boards for their house. As the lights danced all over the iconic backdrop and the overhead lights fell into patterns that complemented the band’s self-triggered perimeter strobes, the entire place descended into something approaching mania. Everything came to a head in their explosive finale and left an entire room of people staring dumbfounded at a stage, equally unsure of what they’d just witnessed and grateful that they were able to take in something so unapologetic in its blistering intensity.
Making the night even sweeter was an unexpected greeting from Krol, who I still hadn’t officially met at the time, after noticing my National Beekeepers Society shirt. We talked Wisconsin music, met up with the rest of the band and a few mutual friends, and Krol let slip that their was going to be a secret Daughter show to close out the venue’s night slot. I wound up making my way into the Daughter show and was blown away by their new material (they announced Not To Disappear at that show and froze my blood with a startling rendition of “Doing The Right Thing“) but couldn’t shake the feeling of overwhelming giddiness from having witnessed some friends from my old home absolutely take apart my new one.
A Night Out With Nina Corcoran and Paul Thomas Anderson
When I first met Nina Corcoran, we were both looking for each other and completely unaware we were standing less than 10 feet apart. It was at Pitchfork 2014 and we were both lined up to get a good view of St. Vincent (who, as expected, turned in a mesmerizing set). I remembered being a little nervous around her as I still had no idea who she was beyond someone who wrote at Allston Pudding that A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor Christine Varriale thought I’d get along with nicely.
It may have taken about a year but Christine’s assumption seemed almost eerily prophetic. For the first edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories, Nina took me by surprise and included me as a focal point in her piece. After that piece renewed a dialogue between the two of us, it started gradually expanding. After establishing a mutual love for all things Meat Wave, we started talking on close to a weekly basis. Before long, I was living in Brooklyn and we were making plans to meet up on her trips to the city.
We’d met up for meals and all too brief hangout sessions whenever we could but the only time we managed to be in the same place for more than an hour was when we attended the premiere of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Jununat the New York Film Festival. I’d been debating on whether or not to make the effort to go due to an attempt to fight back the irritating plague that is the common cold. I told Nina what was happening and she was empathetic, displaying a casual grace in her understanding.
I missed her, though, and had never had the opportunity to attend a premiere, much less one with an accompanying Q&A from a massively influential director (or one that was responsible for a few of my favorite films). After grabbing a packet of kleenex and a warm sweatshirt, I made the trek out to meet Nina in Manhattan. She immediately greeted me with a warm embrace, making me feel both welcome and comfortable rather than the cold-addled burden I half-expected I’d wind up being.
With the start time of the film still a ways off, we decided to grab some soup from a nearby stand that supplemented our containers with an apple, bread, and pieces of chocolate. I refrained from adding ice cream onto that haul for fear of negatively affecting my health but Nina couldn’t resist its pull and led me to a cute shop that was in the area. After learning I still hadn’t been to Central Park, we walked through its gates and found it to be mostly abandoned, settling down at a table near the grass to quietly eat dinner and discuss the merits of Me and Earl and The DyingGirl, among others.
After we’d finished our meals, we took a nighttime stroll through the park, coming to a stop at a baseball diamond. We stood there together, silent for a moment, before turning around and immediately realizing our size (and our place) as we stared up at the lit-up skyscrapers that comprise the Manhattan skyline. In those fleeting seconds, I forgot everything that wasn’t the fact that I was happy to be sharing this view with a person who’s meant more to me than she’ll likely ever know or realize. I don’t remember what broke the silence but I’m grateful for the small eternity where, cold and all, life felt perfect.
It was difficult to leave that spot but we had a film to catch and while Junun was every bit the film I’d hoped it would be, it paled in comparison to realizing I was wrapped up in something exceedingly lovely and utterly intangible with a person I’ve come to genuinely care for, a person who’s continuously succeeded at an impressively high level, a person who’s constantly given me something to aspire to, a person that’s shown me a lot of my goals aren’t as far away as I occasionally think, and a person who never fails to make my life feel a little more worthwhile.
We’d meet up a few weeks later for a surprisingly painful goodbye brunch before I made my way back to Wisconsin (a state where we’ve both resided) and nearly refused to let go of each other out of the sheer fear of being separated by a seemingly incalculable distance. During that last embrace, I closed my eyes and, for a split second, saw the lights of those buildings that towered over us that night in Manhattan.
Dilly Dally Steals CMJ (With An Unexpected Assist) My time spent living in Brooklyn was book-ended by the Northside Festival and CMJ, with each providing a whole slew of moments I’ll recall fondly years down the line. Whether it was meeting the people I’d waited so long to meet at the former or celebrating with the people I’d come to know at the latter, each was at least partially defined by an unavoidable sense of community.
CMJ may have had its first two great moments come by way of some of my closest friends (a pizza run with Bad Wig and a Chinatown trip with Perfect Pussy) but my priority for the festival was to do something I’d been desperately hoping to do for the past few years: take in a Dilly Dally set. I didn’t have to wait long, as the first night I went out to CMJ was closed out by the band, I just had to come to terms with my near-crippling fear that their set might be a disappointment. As is often the case, that thought was absolutely demolished mere seconds into listening in on their soundcheck.
While a surprisingly large amount of people had filtered out of Santos Party House’s unbelievably stacked NME showcase by the time Dilly Dally took the stage, they still managed to fill the venue’s basement with legions of people caught between nervous excitement and the early signs of sleep deprivation/fatigue. It only took Dilly Dally a few notes to ignite the room with a thunderous sound that sounded like it was threatening to overtake the sound system’s capacities on more than one occasion.
Everyone in that band put absolutely everything on the line for that performance, diving deep and coming up with a punch ferocious enough to knock even the harshest cynic for a very disorienting six. Guitarist/vocalist Katie Monks unleashed a series of guttural yowls while guitarist Liz Ball tore into one scintillating lead line after another while the rhythm section provided an overwhelming show of force that generated enough power to shake my frame.
As was expected, many of the night’s highlights came courtesy of the live versions of the songs that made up Sore, their brooding full-length debut. Another small handful came from their brilliant early 7″ releases but the moment that I felt myself practically leave my body was when they tore into an absolutely vicious, if miniature, take on Drake’s “Know Yourself” that featured one of the filthiest bass tones I’ve ever heard. Jaw agape, I was standing motionless, hopelessly filming the spectacle while keeping my eyes off of the camera and frozen to the stage, at once separated from and completely tuned into the reality of the situation.
Easily the absolute heaviest thing I heard last year, the band wound up reprising it a few days later during another impressively explosive set at Baby’s All Right for BrooklynVegan’s CMJ showcase, which I sprinted a full mile to make sure I caught. Both of their sets demonstrated the impressive scope of the band’s singular power as live performers and laid just about everyone else who played CMJ to complete waste. No band delivered more impressively on absurd expectations than Dilly Dally, who dominated this site’s December coverage and will likely remain a critical part of conversation well into the future.
Meredith Graves Tears Up at the Honor Press Showcase Where do I even begin with the unbelievable debt of gratitude I owe to Meredith Graves? One of the reasons I started this site was because I wanted a forum to interview Meredith, who responded in kind to an unsolicited Facebook message and graciously agreed to a Skype session. I had no idea when that was being set up that she would go on to become one of my closest friends, confidants, and most trusted advisers, or that she would eventually start flipping the script to tirelessly attempt to promote and endorse the work I’d been doing on my own.
The summer that followed that initial conversation was mostly spent on the phone with Meredith having hour-long talks about life’s various intricacies, the merits of art, social politics, our deepest fears, our desires, oddball literature, classic film, and anything else that randomly entered our minds. We traded demos, proposed collaborations, and — for some time — became key parts of each other’s daily routine. We’ve relied on each other to keep ourselves tethered to reality and sought out each other’s presence in times of celebration.
We’ve ignored each other, exchanged very sincere declarations of love, and have constantly fought on one another’s behalf. We’ve pitched various outlets pieces focusing on each other’s achievements, attempted to compliment each other to death, and experienced several surreal moments together (from almost breaking a hammock that was too small for either of us on our own to watching Pleasure Leftists play inside of a halfpipe in the attic of a bike shop). We’ve despaired together, we’ve drank together, we’ve schemed together, we’ve surprised each other, we’ve brought each other to the point of tears, and we’ve remained a steadfast part of each other’s lives.
Meredith was responsible for giving me one of my first gigs in Brooklyn, working Perfect Pussy‘s mail order with Ray McAndrew, and has gone out of her way time and time again to fight for my best interests. She’s given me extraordinary introductions to everyone under the sun and flat out earned the title of this site’s patron saint. She pleaded with me to come live in the city where she resided for the three years we’ve been improbably close friends and I finally took her up on the request (for an incredibly large number of reasons, though her presence definitely played a very heavy factor).
For the past several years Meredith’s been attempting to balance twice as much as any normal human could handle but finding reasons to fight. I beamed along with her as she told me that she had a business email and that Honor Press, her newly formed label, had been given the green light from all involved parties. I grinned as she nearly worked herself up to the point of passing out over signing So Stressed, and I immediately made plans to attend the half-secret Honor Press showcase at CMJ as soon as she told me it was going to happen.
On all of the occasions I was able to spend celebrating Meredith’s accomplishments, this one felt different from the outset. Somehow, it seemed more meaningful than any other random show or festival appearance. At some point last year, I don’t know when and I don’t know how, the band Cloud Castle Lake came up in one of our conversations. Meredith had just discovered a very passionate love for the band’s music and I’d recently been blown away by the composition of one of their music videos. Fast forward to September and they’re all standing outside of the Silent Barn, waiting to play a showcase she’d put together, having made the trip over from Ireland for the occasion.
Aye Nako were to open the night and Perfect Pussy were set to close, leaving Cloud Castle Lake in a prime middle slot position. Talking to Meredith outside, it was easy to spot some small trembling; nervous tics betraying both excitement, anxiety, and anticipation. Sleep deprived but positively glowing, she seemed like she wasn’t sure if she wanted the show to start or simply take in the moment prior to the kick-off; the deep breath before the headlong dive towards impact.
She didn’t have to wait long, despite the show starting a little later than scheduled (an occurrence that just about everyone was expecting).
Aye Nako played first and played well, setting an intriguing tone for the evening and for Cloud Castle Lake. What happened next caught just about everyone off guard as the band launched into a set that went from being oddly moving to feeling sacred. Everyone was locked into the tapestries the band was meticulously weaving, swaying absent-mindedly as the band swiftly navigated intricate movements of deeply impressive compositions. I stood by Meredith’s side as she sighed and surrendered completely to the band’s overpowering spell.
About halfway through their set, a moment of clarity hit and the reality of the situation seemed to collapse in on Meredith, who slid her back down the wall, as her eyes brimmed with tears. Surrounded by people she loved, in a place that treated her well, watching her favorite bands play a show she booked, it was as if all of the things that normally weigh heavy on her mind were dissolved in one fell swoop. My heart nearly gave out as I watched her go through the motions of realizing her role in facilitating something that swung on a pendulum from powerful to transcendental.
We locked eyes for a moment and she put my immediate concern at rest with a half-smile, clearly overwhelmed by what was playing out in the room. Shortly after, she regained her composition and joined the rest of the audience in their half-sways as Cloud Castle Lake issued out one quiet, involved prayer after another. The rest of Perfect Pussy were hesitant to take the stage once Daniel McAuley’s last falsetto had receded into the ether, fully aware that Cloud Castle Lake had just transported an entire room of people to a place that many of them were likely discovering for the first time.
To this day, I’m not entirely sure where that performance took Meredith but I’m grateful that she got to take the kind of journey she so richly deserved. Krill’s Story Comes Full Circle at DBTS
No band has been mentioned in this edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories more times than Krill. Their impact on their respective communities was undeniable and they clearly struck a very deep cord with a lot of the people that comprised those groups. Idolized, celebrated, acclaimed, and fearlessly loved, their decision to call it quits in 2015 prompted a colossal deal of sadness from anyone that’d ever subscribed to the cult of Krill.
Making the blow even worse was the fact that it came in the midst of a creative spree that saw the band experimenting more readily and crafting some of their finest material. The band had strung together a monumental 2015 run, bolstered by the success of their jaw-dropping A Distant Fist Unclenchingand hordes of critics’ praise from nationally recognized (and highly influential) publications.
They’d played what was one of the first great sets I saw in 2015, celebrated the 4th of July by playing a show at Silent Barn with Swirlies, and delivered a towering set as a headliner during the second night of Exploding In Sound’s Extended Weekend. While all of those sets were admittedly as inspiring as everyone had made Krill shows out to be, it was their second-to-last ever show, a secret benefit for the Silent Barn’s reconstruction at DBTS, that stood out as the most meaningful.
Not only was the band playing a place I’d briefly called home but it was also where they played their very first show, giving the proceedings an oddly emotional bent. Unsurprisingly, after word got out, the show sold out faster than most DBTS shows and saw the room overflowing with people who wanted to be present for Krill’s last hurrah in a more intimate DIY setting.
Cende and LVL UP played the roles of openers as effectively as possible, delivering solid sets that wouldn’t detract from a moment that was rightfully Krill’s. By the time Krill were adjusting their mix, the main room was overflowing with people and there was a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd lined up the stairwell. Their ensuing set was so perfectly definitive of Krill that it nearly managed to be completely indescribable.
In turns, it was tightly controlled and threatened to completely unravel. Shambolic and poised, it existed in this strange dichotomy that Krill had so expertly exploited for years but rarely with as much purpose as they did during that set. When something nears its end, we, as humans, do our best to make the most of the remaining pieces of its life. Krill knew that by the time the following week rolled around, they’d have given up that aspect of their life and it was abundantly clear that they were hell-bent on making their remaining time count.
Aaron Ratoff’s guitar kept falling out of tune, Ian Becker hit his drums with a greater velocity than usual, and Jonah Furman embraced every aspect of his being en route to a tour de force performance that absolutely demolished the room where they started their career. By the time the inevitable chant of “Krill, Krill, Krill Forever” went up, DBTS resident (and Cende guitarist) Dave Medina had found a way to literally crowdsurf on the audience, enhancing the night’s descent into frenzied insanity. Everyone, as always seemed to be the case with Krill, was in this together; a thriving community that celebrated its best aspects as readily as it acknowledged its weaknesses.
As Krill sprinted towards the finish line, the out-of-control audience came dangerously close to toppling their equipment, and Dave manage to successfully find a way to balance on top of a tattered styrofoam surfboard as he was hoisted up by the crowd, it was incredibly evident that although everyone knew that the run had to end, no one wanted to come back down. Encore chants were given and obliged until it simply became a point of exhaustion, leaving everyone involved with a sense that they’d taken part in something worth talking about years down the line.
Krill is dead; long live Krill; Krill forever.
Putting Together A Year’s Worth of Memories To anyone who actually bothered to read through the entirety of the content above (which essentially amounts to a grossly over-indulgent novella), you have my very sincere gratitude and a ton of respect. This is the second year I’ve curated A Year’s Worth of Memories and the response for this round has been even more enthusiastic than when I first tried out the series at the outset of 2015.
I’d once again like to thank the people who were mentioned in this piece’s prologue (especially the returning contributors: Loren DiBlasi, David Glickman, Athylia Paremski, David Glickman, Jessi Frick, Stephen Tringali, Cole Kinsler, Gabriela June Tully Claymore, David Anthony, Phil McAndrew, Sam Clark, Miranda Fisher, and Christine Varriale).
Putting together the first two installments of this series has been reassuring in unfathomable ways. Seeing the outpouring of support from people not only willing to listen but express interest in participating from all over the world has meant the world to me; without those reminders this place would likely cease existing. For that, I’m unbelievably grateful. It’s easy to forget how many people you have on your side when you can’t see them in front of you so when so many come together to fight for something that was once just a fraction of an idea, especially when they’re people you’ve admired and celebrated, is a surreal thing to experience.
Heartbreaking Bravery has always been a support structure and to extend that out to other people and give them a chance to express their thanks for others, reflect on themselves, or simply join in a healthy conversation is an incredibly important aspect of what keeps this place functioning. Being able to facilitate something of that nature, especially when the names attached continuously unveil work worth celebrating, has been a profoundly moving experience. It’s been a deeply rewarding experience and it’s helped provide this place with meaning.
To all of the people who became a small part of this site’s history either this year or last year (and to anyone who contributes in any way in the coming years), I will once again simply state: I love you all.
Before diving into the particulars of the forthcoming lists, it’s worth addressing the distinction made in the headline. Each of the categories that received a list in 2015 (music videos, songs, EP’s, albums, odds and ends) will be expanded upon in this post. However, there are still two forthcoming film lists but each of those will include the honorable mentions along with the featured rankings. An obscene amount of great material came out over the 12 months that comprised the past year so any attempts to cover everything would be futile. If anyone’s exhausted the below lists, a more comprehensive version can be found by exploring the following tags: stream, full stream, EP stream, and music video. Explore some of the top tier picks that didn’t make it onto the year-end lists via the tags below.
Now that all the visual retrospectives are out of the way and the best live videos have been accounted for, it’s time to move onto the records in earnest. Over the course of the next several days there will be “best of” lists for the following categories: music videos, odds and ends (demos, 7″ records, compilations, etc.), songs, and albums. There will also be an Honorable Mentions devotion that covers a massive array of material from the majority of those categories. Following those lists will be the second installment of the A Year’s Worth of Memories series, which will once again feature a murderer’s row of contributors that have been pulled from both the music and film worlds.
For now, we’re turning our attention to the EP’s that made the most formidable impressions over the course of the past 12 months. Well over 100 titles were considered and then boiled down to the 15 that you see below (this was such a strong year for EP’s that the top 5 are essentially interchangeable). Before delving into those titles, it’s worth noting that “best” in the case– as it is in all cases– is just a meaningless formality and the list below is a reflection of subjectivity. I make no claim to be an authoritative voice in these matters, just a person that genuinely enjoys music and uses a platform as a means to attempt to elevate some of the acts that truly deserve to have their names in greater circulation. So, without further ado, here’s 15 of ’15: The Best EP’s of 2015.
15. Idle Bloom – Some Paranoia
Sometimes all you need to do is offer to help carry equipment to be introduced to incredible new bands, which is exactly how I met Callan Dwan, who I would come to learn is not only Mitski’s guitarist but one of the guitarists for two other acts as well: Dogtooth and Idle Bloom. The latter– a shoegaze-obsessed post-punk act (or is it the other way around?)– recently released their Some Paranoia EP, which stealthily builds its momentum in a clever, multifaceted way; not only do the majority of the songs work their way into a cacophonous frenzy but so does the EP as a whole. It’s an exhilarating listen from a promising emerging act and boasts one of the year’s best riffs.
14. ThinLips – Your Divorce
An extraordinary opening track can do wonders for any release. An effective opening track will set a precedent and a tone for the ensuing material on the record. Your Divorce‘s opener “Nothing Weird” is both effective and extraordinary. Brandishing a compellingly damaged form of lo-fi leaning pop-punk, ThinLips crafted a vicious, compact stunner of an EP that comes across like a warning shot. In a genre that’s increasingly weakened by diminishing returns from the artists utilizing reverential approach, it’s heartening to see the more subversive acts releasing material that feels genuinely vital.
13. Bad Wig – Bad Wig
Before Bad Wig was Bad Wig, they were The Midwestern Charm, an act that worked their way from a sound that fell closer in line to Ryan Adams to crafting a record that fit better alongside the likes of The Lemonheads. A few member changes and stylistic shifts later, they’d carved out a new identity under their new name. Their introductory act is ferociously ragged and maybe even a little audacious. Most everything else there is to be said about this brilliant collection of punk-tinged micro-pop gems can was covered in last week’s review.
12. Potty Mouth – Potty Mouth
A lot of bands found surprisingly bold ways to shift their sound but none caught me as off-guard as Potty Mouth‘s fearless swan dive into the polished, arena-ready sounds of their self-titled EP. Opening with the skyward stretching of “Cherry Picking” and only building momentum from there, Potty Mouth could very easily signal a new era for a band that was formerly known for reveling in their scrappier tendencies. Every song on the EP connects with a staggering amount of force, nicely correlating with the self-possessed determination found at the root of nearly every song in this collection. Potty Mouth is the kind of rallying call that echoes.
11. Midwives – Cowboy Songs
After releasing a fierce full-length debut back in February, Midwives managed to top themselves as the year was drawing to a close. The shockingly immediate Cowboy Songs dishes out punishment at a startling rate and bristles with real emotion. Things kick off with the vicious “Back in the Saddle” and never look back from there, each subsequent song in this seven and a half minute collection of deranged hardcore acting as a flawless showcase of the band’s brute strength. Cowboy Songs is filled to the brim with the kind of hardcore that thrashes around wildly and refuses to be tamed.
10. Geronimo! – Buzz Yr Girlfriend: Vol. 4 – Why Did You Leave Me?
While a lot of people were justifiably saddened over the losses of Ovlov and Krill, it may have been the departure of Geronimo! that hit hardest. Granted, for the vast majority of my life, they were easily the closest to my location of that trio but the sentiment remains. At the very least, the trio went out on top with their final bow: Buzz Yr Girlfriend: Vol. 4 – Why Did You LeaveMe?. Characteristically unwieldy, the band’s final three songs ranked among the best work of a deeply impressive career, each (justifiably) landing a premiere at a massive publication. Fitting levels of recognition for an overwhelmingly powerful final effort.
9. Teksti-TV 666 – 2
One of the biggest surprises of the year for me personally, this blistering EP from Finnish act Teksti-TV 666 practically qualifies as an album by today’s standards (its runtime is over 22 minutes). Full of surging basement pop that’s not too far off from the best of The Marked Men, the aptly named 2 swings for the fences at every turn without hesitation. Incorporating a several-member guitar attack that may rival Diarrhea Planet’s, the band finds new avenues to explore as the record careens headfirst towards something concrete. After the fireworks of “Tuhatvuotinen Harharetki”, the band never lets up and goes on exploratory tangents at will. Psychedelic flourishes, sludge breakdowns, and a serious amount of momentum carry 2 to its status as one of the best of 2015.
8. Slight – Hate the Summer
Hate the Summer prompted a few difficult guideline decisions for this list: was it ethical to include an EP anchored by a song that premiered on this site and would a tape release of the EP that included the entirety of an online single that this site ranked as last year’s best be eligible for contention? The answers, obviously, were “absolutely” and “yes.” The latter line of questioning was the one that was scrutinized the most for this list and wound up excluding Meat Wave’s formidable Brother from eligibility (nearly half of the EP pulled from a variety of the band’s other releases, rendering it more of a padded compilation than an EP). With Hate the Summer, the band’s not only expanded the scope of their work but they’ve tapped into something with the three new songs on display here that have the potential to lift this project to new heights of outside recognition. Overall, it’s an important early piece of the trio’s developing history and deserves to be heard as many times as possible.
7. Midnight Reruns – Get Me Out
A staple of this site’s coverage since its introduction, Midnight Reruns rewarded that attention by taking a huge leap with this year with their two strongest releases to date, beginning with this bleary-eyed EP. The Tommy Stinson-produced “Ain’t Gonna Find” sets things in motion and establishes the band’s manic basement pop sensibilities in the early goings, with Graham Hunt’s million-words-a-minute delivery emboldened by the characteristically fierce lead guitar work between Hunt and Karl Giehl. From that blistering opening number, the band takes a step back and sinks their teeth into more left-field territory like the rollicking “Ancient Creature”, which boasts the instantly memorable chorus couplets of “I am the sun, I am the sea/I am an ancient creature/I was born in Madagascar/I was raised by lemurs” and a bruising cover of The Mistreaters’ “The Other Man”.
6. Sheer Mag – II
Another year, another Sheer Maglist placement. Expanding on everything that made the band so great right out of the gate, II was a natural extension of its predecessor, driven by the wild energy of its phenomenal closing track, “Button Up“. All of the glam influences remain and the band likely owes a remarkably huge debt to Marc Bolan but it’s hard to care about influences when the music manages to be so ridiculously entertaining. People will talk about how ’50s pop seeps in around the band’s roughest edges but really, they should probably just stop talking and start dancing. Scrappy and deliriously fun, II‘s another triumph.
5. Diet Cig – Over Easy
No EP soundtracked more aimless drives for me this year than Diet Cig‘s endearingly jubilant Over Easy, which served a necessary reminder that sometimes the most important function music can have is a sense of joy. In the face of a horrifying year in the news, an onslaught of overly-serious releases, and a general downcast pall, Over Easy was a breath of fresh air; a pair of young musicians finding their voice. Every song on Over Easy is memorable not just for its irreverence but for its uncompromising energy and impressive levels of commitment. Warm weather anthems abound and guitarist/vocalist Alex Luciano gets to deliver one of the year’s most scathing kiss-off’s in the final track’s most rousing section.
4. LVL UP – Three Songs
In 2014, site favorites LVL UP topped this site’s Albums of the Year list with ease thanks to the overwhelming brilliance of Hoodwink’d, which was the most perfect distillation of the respective voices of the band’s three principal songwriters to date. Three Songscontinues that trend in miniature, allotting a song a piece from Dave Benton, Mike Caridi, and Nick Corbo. All three bring a palpable sense of weariness to the proceedings, immediately rendering this LVL UP’s moodiest record. From the spiky micro-pop of “Blur” to book-ends “The Closing Door” and “Proven Water Rites”, there’s never a dull moment and the band, once again, leave their guts on the table before walking out the door.
3. Ernie – Dog Park
Occasionally, a single song can elevate an already-strong release to unthinkable proportions, which is exactly what happens with Ernie’s delightful Dog Park and its monumental centerpiece, “Sweatpants“. While all four songs contained in Dog Park are memorable and have an impressive host of great moments, it’s the frantic, hook-laden “Sweatpants” that brings the collection together and enhances its immediate surroundings. A surging jolt of relatable discontentment emphasized by a vicious undercurrent of basement pop aesthetics, “Sweatpants” becomes Dog Park‘s definitive moment and simultaneously becomes an unwitting microcosm of 2015’s prevailing sense of disillusionment before turning on that notion in defiance and letting loose a series of blows. Dog Park‘s status as one of 2015’s great releases is cemented in the process.
2. Tenement – Tenement
No band was written about more- or in greater detail- throughout the course of 2015 than Tenement. For nearly 10 years, I’ve been clutching at mostly empty air while damaging my lungs screaming at seemingly empty rooms to go listen to this band. 2015 was the year where everyone started listening. Of the band’s three releases throughout the past 12 months, their self-titled effort was by far the least discussed. Originally released as a limited-run cassette for one of their early tours, the trio decided to release it to the general public several months later, potentially realizing that it deserved a much wider audience. Focusing on the band’s underlying roots, country, folk, and soul influences without ever completely sacrificing their punk bite, Tenement‘s easily the band’s most easygoing collection as well as its most immediately timeless. Keep its open-road sensibilities in mind for your next long drive.
1. Cende – Cende
Capping off an extraordinary year for drummer (and occasional guitarist) Greg Rutkin (LVL UP, Slight, Normal Person, etc.) was Cende’s explosive self-titled debut, which was recently released online (the bandcamp lists the official release as January 1). The band’s been playing these songs out for a while and garnered heavy coverage from this site during its extended Brooklyn residency. An LP is due out in 2016 as well and, after this EP and the live previews, it’s already one of the most highly anticipated releases of 2016. Taking cues from acts like Radioactivity, Cende has already perfected their blend of searing basement pop and unforgiving basement punk. Only two of these songs- including “Widow”, the opening track and one of the year’s finest- go over the 90 second mark and all of them boast hooks powerful enough to keep pulling the listener back, making Cende an endlessly replayable gift. It’s a monstrous release from a band refusing to aim for anything other than greatness and continuous improvement. Cende is one hell of a starting point.
Ever since relocating back to central Wisconsin from Brooklyn, this place has been playing catch-up in a variety of fields (look at the preceding 15 posts for overwhelming proof), which left live coverage staggering over to the wayside. To partially amend that fact, I’ve compiled a collection of live videos from that rough time frame. Beginning with Krill‘s second-to-last show (an extremely memorable set at DBTS, which ended with literal crowdsurfing) and working to a reprisal of the Bad Wig footage that was contained in the recent review of their EP, there’s a lot of ground to cover. Included in that range are the videos from the first set from The Glow and the second set from Museum of Recycling, an extraordinary full set from site favorites Young Jesus, PWR BTTM and Mitski taking over Wisconsin, Midnight Reruns proving their worth with a powerhouse set in Green Bay, and LVL UP tearing into an inspired rendition of “DBTS” on hallowed ground. All of that and a whole lot more can be seen in the videos below. Enjoy.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: With the site now entering emergency year-end catch-up mode thanks to the cruel, mocking nature of time, tonight’s trio of posts will simply be short reviews of the album(s) in the headline(s) and an accompanying list of records that deserve to be heard.]
Earlier this year Bad Wig were still flying underneath the banner of The Midwestern Charm. Just after signing to Texas Is Funny, member departures and an accompanying shift in style facilitated a name change and the band’s not showing any desire to look back. All of that tumultuous internal terrain’s somehow translated into propulsive momentum and Bad Wig‘s the proof. “Stargazer“, a song that predated the name change and merely existed as a demo for The Midwestern Charm’s principal songwriter, Connor La Mue.
Despite being unattached to any project at the time, “Stargazer” earned a mountain of praise from this site while foreshadowing what was to come. The band’s now a trio and La Mue and fellow Midwestern Charm member Ryan McCrary now share vocal duties, each bringing a fiercely engaging approach that suggests they’ve been spending a lot of time picking up cues from the neighbors in Midnight Reruns and (especially) Tenement. Lo-fi, battered, and gritty as hell, this demo EP- released as a limited-run cassette- is one of 2015’s finest releases.
Listen to Bad Wig below and pick it up here. Below the embed, explore some live videos of the band performing songs from the EP and a collection of some of the best full streams to surface over the past several months.
Even though more than two dozen of the past week’s items have been covered, there’s still a large handful of releases that haven’t been mentioned. Dusk’s B-side to “(Do The) Bored Recluse” led a formidable pack of noteworthy new songs and full streams. In the former caAtegory, there were memorable new numbers from Florist, Tigue, The Coathangers, Pinegrove, Foxing, Tenement, Historian, Monella, and Total Abuse, as well as a respectable Fugazi cover from The Dirty Nil. The full streams were well-represented with an eclectic trio of releases from Weyes Blood, Operator, and Bad Wig. All of those are, as always, worthy of investment- but it was Dusk’s latest that felt most deserving of this post’s headline.
As previously stated– and evidenced by this very post– any time anything Tenement-related surfaces, there’s a decent chance it’s going to get featured. There has been no other band I’ve recommended more times over the course of the past eight years and the band’s many side projects have warranted a great deal of attention; Dusk is no different. A collective of some of the sharpest musical minds in Wisconsin’s Fox Valley area, Dusk magnify Tenement’s relatively contained classic country influence into something effortlessly convincing.
“Too Sweet” sees the vocal lead shifting from Amos Pitsch to Julia Blair, who has no trouble carving out a commanding presence as the song’s central player. Nuanced pedal steel work and an impressive keys figure drive the song’s open-road feel, while Pitsch’s layered backing vocals inject the song with the kind of character that’s come to define his main vehicle. All the while, the rhythm section remains focused, covering up the song’s saccharine sensibilities with a coating of grit; a trick that plays directly into the song’s lyrical content.
It’s a clear-eyed love song that’s covered in bruises and it exhibits an incredible amount of promise for the members’ latest undertaking. “Too Sweet” also cements (Do The) Bored Recluse b/w Too Sweet‘s status as one of this year’s finest 7″ releases. Make sure it’s in as many collections as possible by following the order link below; this isn’t something to be missed.
Listen to “Too Sweet” below and pick up a copy of the 7″ from Forward! Records here.